Inquiries… the only allowable form of communication between coaches and judges. I’ve been on both sides of the inquiry process – as a coach who strongly disagreed with a score given to one of my gymnasts, and as a judge filling out the form and trying to be fair to the gymnast, while still upholding the rules.
If you watched the 2019 World Championships, you may have wondered how Kara Eaker earned a score high enough to qualify into the beam final, yet she was not in the list of finalists on that event! Initially I had to do some Internet searching to find the answer to that question, and when I searched, I discovered that one of the coaches had submitted an inquiry after her beam routine. The inquiry resulted in the score being lowered by 0.4, and Eaker missed the final because of the score change.
How could that happen, one might think? Could a score really go down after an inquiry? Believe it or not, it happens in all levels of gymnastics, and it is more common than you may think. One seasoned judge taught me, as I was learning to be a meet referee, that “There are three things that can happen when a coach puts in an inquiry, and only one of them is good.”
1. The score might go up.
2. The score might stay the same.
3. The score might go down.
As a coach, it’s tough to see one of your athletes receive a score that seems too low, or that appears inconsistent with other scores given that day. But how do you know when you should submit an inquiry? The situations when inquiries are allowed are:
- Start Value questions
- Questions about flat compositional deductions
- Unusual occurrences
- Neutral deductions
- To raise the gymnast’s all-around score for regional qualification purposes
Let’s dive into specifics about these situations.
Start Value questions:
If you are unsure about your gymnast’s Start Value, first check the video (if one is available). Did she perform all the skills she was supposed to? Did any of her connections look suspect? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve answered an inquiry on a routine where the gymnast simply forgot a skill which was one of her Special Requirements, especially early in the season.
Coach: “Did you do your full turn?” Gymnast: “Oops….”
That said, if you watch the routine and can’t figure out what it is she could be missing, it’s a good idea to fill out an inquiry. Sometimes the wording in the Code can be difficult to understand, or an update has recently come out that would affect the gymnast’s Start Value. When I am judging, I’m always happy to provide information that will help an athlete achieve a 10.0 Start Value. Sometimes one judge will give credit for a skill, and the other judge does not, and that can be valuable information for the coach.
Questionable connections are a very common reason for a lower Start Value, and if the coach is unsure, this is a time when it makes sense to inquire. The rules about connections differ based on the type of connection, which can be confusing. Additionally, if the gymnast has several opportunities for bonus in her routine, it may be worth an inquiry to determine which bonus she is getting credit for.
Flat Compositional Deductions:
Compositional requirements are not reflected in the Start Value, so if a score seems lower than expected, this is an area that a coach might inquire on.
Inquiries are only allowed for questions about flat compositional deductions, such as:
- Lack of 2 bar changes
- Lack of a dance series on beam
- Failure to perform acro elements in two different directions on beam
- Lack of a B turn on floor
- Failure to perform saltos in two different directions on floor
- Overuse of dance elements of the same shape (beam and floor)
Inquiries should not be submitted for “up to” compositional deductions such as the “up to the level” deductions.
An inquiry of this nature can cover a wide variety of situations. I have seen inquiries asking about rhythm deductions when a gymnast was unable to hear her music. Sometimes inquiries are submitted for compulsory routines in which a gymnast forgets an element or performs skills out of order, if the coach wants clarification on what deductions were taken.
There could be any number of examples of unusual situations, but a lot of them are resolved before the official score even comes up. Bird on the floor mat and want a re-do? Better get to the judge before they flash the score! Toddler escapes and runs across the vault runway? Check with the judge, don’t wait for an inquiry!
An inquiry in this category could be submitted if there is a question about whether the judges deducted for a fall (0.5) vs a touch of the hands to the ground (0.3). Another example could be a 0.3 hit on the mat on bars, compared to a 0.5 full body weight deduction. If there is a question about whether the soles of the feet touched the apparatus or floor during a fall, an inquiry could be submitted.
Neutral deductions should be clearly displayed or the coach should be verbally notified. The coach does not always see or hear the notification, though, or they may need clarification on what the deduction is. The scores associated with these inquiries are not commonly changed, but the inquiry can provide valuable information to the coach. One situation in which I have seen a score change is overtime on floor. There can, on occasion, be room for error when the judging assistant starts or stops the watch. If the coach can provide a video of the routine, it can be re-timed, and the score could be changed if the gymnast is, in fact, within the time limit.
Other examples of neutral deductions that could be inquired are:
- Out of bounds
- Equipment specification deductions
- Failure to remove springboard or mounting device
- Short exercise
- Failure to mark the boundary line on additional floor matting
- Absence of floor music or music with words
- Performance of a one-arm vault
This list is not all-encompassing, but does provide examples of some of the neutral deductions that can be taken. The full list can be found in General – pages 6-8 of the J.O. Code of Points.
At the state meet, if the gymnast is within 0.10 of qualifying to her regional championships, the coach can inquire on her lowest event score to request an additional up to 0.10 to allow the gymnast to qualify to regionals. The judges are not required to raise the score, but the coach can ask them to consider a score change.
There are plenty of reasons a coach might want to inquire about a routine (I have even done it in the past if a parent was particularly insistent on getting information!), but as Kara Eaker learned at the 2019 Worlds, it’s a good idea to be sure your score won’t go down before filling one out.